By Abia Noumbissi
As protests begin to calm down after days of unrest over the police shooting of 17-year-old, Nahel Merzouk, in the Paris suburb, of Nanterre, trials have begun for the thousands of people who were arrested during the riots.
Local reports have confirmed that after the six nights of confrontations between protesters and police more than 5,000 cars were burned, 1,000 buildings damaged or looted, and 250 gendarmeries were attacked.
At least 3400 people were arrested as there was a massive police presence each night to “restore law and order”.
Starting over the weekend courts in France began to process those arrested through trials known as comparuations immédiates, where prosecutors and court-appointed lawyers work on simple crimes like theft and traffic violations, usually when the accused person is caught in the act.
The New York Times reports that over 600 trials took place within the first day, describing the process as “hasty”
“the courts are going into overdrive. Lawyers for those arrested often have just 30 minutes to prepare,” states the NY Times report.
The Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Morretti wanted to send a message telling prosecutors to see prison time for people charged with physical assault or serious vandalism.
“Very clearly, I want a firm hand,” Mr. Dupond-Moretti told France Inter radio on Monday.
According to French authorities, the majority of those arrested had no prior criminal record and most of them were minors. The average age was 17 and some were as young as 12.
Comparuations immédiates are usually processed quickly and the sentences are harsher. Lawyers often have just 30 minutes to prepare and meet with their clients and the majority of cases ended in jail time. Accused persons have the option to delay the hearing to better prepare but few take this option as they would be waiting in jail.
“I was angry because of everything that is happening. Someone died. That’s serious.” Said Yanis Linize, 20, one of the people who was on trial over the weekend.
Police say they arrested him for chanting “Justice for Nahel, we will kill you all.” However, he told the court that he was shouting “Justice for Nahel, no more deaths.”
After his arrest, the court looked through his social media citing multiple videos and messages as proof. In one video he is seen holding a gas canister and saying, I am going to burn everything in the housing project.” Linize said that these were “just words” and that he didn’t burn or steal
His lawyer Camilla Quendolo also told judges that he had no dangerous items on him at the time of his arrest and that his words were “simply political.”
At the end of the trial, Linzie was found guilty and given an eight-month jail sentence. “These penalties are too heavy for young people. They didn’t hurt anyone” said Issa Sonke, 23, when interviewed by The New York Times, while at a trial to support a friend.
Like Sonke, others, especially parents and friends feel as though many who have been sentenced thus far have been punished too harshly. Many have also seen police violence — saying that while their actions may not be right it comes from the frustration of feeling attacked and
unheard and that judges should keep this in mind during the trials.
Nahel’s killing has renewed the long-standing division between police and French immigrant communities, especially African and Arab populations.
Most notably the debate between racial profiling by police and discriminatory Identify check practices. Police unions and supporters of
the police have said that while there are some cases of racial profiling this is at individual levels and is not a problem of the entire police force.
As of Thursday, cases are still being heard with the majority taking place in Nanterre and other surrounding Paris suburbs.